Smartphones ‘remotely wiped’ in police custody, as encryption vs. law enforcement heats up

British police forces have complained that as many as six smartphones seized have been remotely wiped in the past year, potentially killing vital evidence as part of ongoing investigations.

The somewhat comical angle from the BBC News on Thursday was that Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Nottingham, and Durham police “don’t know how people wiped them.”

Here’s a hint, police: “Find my iPhone.”

The issue stems around the technology that allows users to remotely wipe their device, and potentially corporate secrets and personal information, in cases where their devices have been lost or stolen.

Most modern phones come with this technology: Apple iPhones, Android and Windows Phone devices all do. In many cases, like with BlackBerry handsets, company IT administrators can also remotely wipe data.

But this poses a problem for the British bobbies. The report said, citing one forensics expert, “If a device has a signal, in theory it is possible to wipe it remotely.”

Police often use radio-frequency shielded bags, or even microwave ovens (so long as they’re never turned on) to prevent cell service from getting through. However, in some cases, even that short period of time after a device has been seized can be enough to send through a remotely-activated data kill switch.

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